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"30 Minutes or Less": A Decent Attempt at the Comedy-Action Genre
In the action-comedy genre, films can be smart or stupid. “30 Minutes or Less” tends to be in the middle. In director Ruben Fleischer’s followup to his impressive debut “Zombieland,” “30 Minutes or Less” takes an interesting plot device but ends up with mediocre results. Re-uniting with “Zombieland” star Jesse Eisenberg, Fleischer has put out an uneven tale of stupid criminals and inept (but likable) protagonists.
Nick (Eisenberg) is a 20-something pizza-delivery slacker with no real ambition. He lives with his only friend Chet (Aziz Ansari), a substitute teacher in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nick pursues a relationship with Chet’s twin sister Katie (Dilshad Vadsaria) but hides from Chet that they once slept together. When Chet learns of this, their friendship temporary dissolves. Meanwhile, jobless Dwayne (Danny McBride) and his goofball buddy Travis (Nick Swardson) spend their time blowing up objects with homemade explosives while leaching off of Dwayne’s retired Marine Corp father (Fred Ward) who won it big in the lottery. Fearing that his father is blowing his winnings and thus not leaving any inheritance, Dwayne derives a plan to off his father in order to collect the money. Needing one hundred grand to hire a hit man, Dwayne and Travis devise a plan to kidnap a nobody and force him to rob a bank with a homemade bomb strapped to his chest.
After calling in a pizza delivery order, Dwayne and Travis draw Nick into a junk yard and trap him. Giving him just ten hours to come up with the money, Nick must rob a bank or face explosion if he ever tries to run away or seek out help from the police. His only hope in accomplishing this task is by seeking out help from his former friend. Chet reluctantly agrees with the promise that Nick never pursues his sister Katie again. What follows is an action-packed sequence of mayhem, with Dwayne and Travis on their tail while the would-be hit-man (Michael Peña) is seeking his pay day.
While the humor is laugh-out-loud at times and the action is exciting, the film as a whole has a hard time finding the right tone. Fleischer impressed audiences with “Zombieland” because it was the right mixture of comedy, action, and zombie folklore. “Zombieland” was self aware of the zombie genre in the same sense that “30 Minutes or Less” is aware of its action influences. Early in the film, Nick and Chet casually watch “Die Hard” for the umpteenth time. When planning out their bank robbery, they remember from the film “Point Break” to keep it quick and only stick to the tellers and never go into the vault. However, many scenes appear to be uneven and less organic with the rest of the film. McBride and Swardson prove to be less criminal but more as bumbling idiots. McBride in particular has built up a character reputation as a cocky, self-assured blowhard with his Kenny Powers persona on HBO’s “Eastbound and Down.” This time around, he’s an idiot with daddy issues.
The one strongpoint is the likability of the two leads, Eisenberg and Ansari. Eisenberg has received critical acclaim for dramatic roles in “The Squid and the Whale” and his Oscar-nominated performance in “The Social Network.” He’ s also proved to have a unique nervous yet comedic presence in films like “Adventureland” and the previously mentioned “Zombieland.” In his new film, despite being a go-nowhere character, he remains sympathetic in his plight. For fans of Ansari’s work in NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and his stand up performances, this film provides a full-fledge outfit for his comedic capabilities. His character Chet is a nice foil to his less-ambitious friend while providing comedic relief as a coping mechanism for the fact that his best friend has a bomb strapped to his chest. While most critics are not likely to compare this film to the 2009 box office success of the R-rated comedy “The Hangover” or its sequel this summer, “30 Minutes or Less” succeeds in providing similar comedic affect in a scenario where its protagonists are undergoing real distress.
As far as summer comedies go, I was really looking forward to this film this year. Unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up to other high concept comedies but at times remains enjoyable. The leads are realistic but the concept gets out of hand. A worthy rental but don’t expect anything outstanding.